A yoga centre in Kerala has been accused of reconverting Hindu women through means that smack of Ghar Wapsi.
Yoga is good for health, we are told. But a yoga kendra in Kerala, managed by the Shivashakti Charitable Trust, has been using yoga and other means to `bend’ minds that have gone astray and wandered into other religions or faiths through the institution of marriage. In short, the Kendra is accused of doubling up conducting Ghar Wapsi training programmes and reconverting Hindu women.
The matter came to light when a case was filed in the Kerala high court. In a detailed affidavit, a 28-year-old Dr Swetha has alleged that she was detained for 22 days at a yoga centre near Tripunithura in Kochi and “physically and mentally harassed” to annul her marriage to a Christian man.
She also alleged that over 60 Hindu women, married to men from other religions, were under illegal detention in an effort to brainwash them. All this smacks of `ghar wapsi’ movement.
However, all that has been alleged may not be true. Though the kendra was functioning in a thickly populated residential area, neighbours said they had never noticed anything unusual about the institution. People were allowed in and out and there were visitors too.
“We never heard any cries or screams. The inmates and tutors often celebrate special occasions like Independence Day and other festivals with enthusiasm,” Biju, who lives next door, told the local media. “They impart training in yoga and also offer counselling to inmates who were brought by their parents,” said Anilkumar, another resident of the area.
Dr Shweta had married Rinto Isaac, 29, of Thrissur at a temple in Peechi and had given notice for marriage as per Special Marriage Act. Soon after the notification, she had vanished on July 27. Rinto subsequently filed a habeas corpus petition.
Her father and family forced her to go for `counselling’ at the yoga centre. There she says she was taught about why the Bible and Quran are full of contradictions and cannot be trusted. When she protested, her hands were tied.
Speaking to the local media, she said “We were forced to sleep on the floor of dormitories and the doors of bathrooms did not have locks. There were many who had been confined for years… Most of the inmates were ill but no treatment was given.”
Following the report, the police arrested yoga instructor Sreejesh. Four yoga tutors, including Manoj alias Guruji, are absconding.
Politicians were quick to jump into the issue. K K Raihanath, state president of Women India Movement, the women’s wing of SDPI, the political face of Popular Front of India, said “A petition filed by a Dr Shweta at Kerala high court stated that atrocities including sexual harassment are being meted out to women in the counselling sessions held at the trust to bring women back to Hinduism. The petition states that around 65 women living in the Yoga centre were subjected to sexual harassment… There is a torture room at the trust premises”.
However, sexual harassment was not part of the charges levelled by Dr Shweta.
Shweta managed to escape by winning over the trust of her instructors. She pretended to agree to everything. When her parents took her to her elder sister’s house, she managed to escape and rejoin Isaac. In addition to seeking police protection from her tormentors, the woman has sought a court directive for a detailed investigation into the criminal activities of the trust that runs the centre at Tripunithura.
Following the complaint, the local panchayat has issued closure notice to the yoga centre. Parents were asked to take away their children under police escort.